Union Illustrates Marie Curie and Radium’s Impact in ‘Radioactive’

Under the direction of BAFTA and Oscar nominee Marjane Satrapi, Radioactive is celebrating the pioneering work of Marie Curie. The StudioCanal film is based on the graphic novel "Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Story of Love and Fallout" by Lauren Redniss.

Radioactive focuses on Marie, a passionate scientist who works in the male-dominated society of late 19th century Paris and, despite her apparent brilliance, struggles to advance her groundbreaking research. After teaming up with their colleague and future husband Pierre Curie, they continue their research into radioactivity and discover not just one but two new elements: radium and polonium. The genius of the Curies' discoveries and the subsequent Nobel Prize put the devoted couple in the international spotlight. After a tragic accident, Marie continues her work alone, leading to revolutionary discoveries that have dramatic consequences for the modern world – both bad and good.

A trusting collaboration between Great Britain from the start Union VFXSimon Hughes and Satrapi, visual effects supervisors, were instrumental in developing a creative language that could be used throughout film production. The director has a background in animation and is creatively experimental and brave; She had created extensive animations and storyboards, and provided plenty of reference materials that led Hughes to a shared creative vision of the more conceptual design elements.

"This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with a very creative director with a strong vision," noted Hughes. “Marjane gave us a lot of creative freedom to develop a visual language based on science to connect Marie's story with the impact of her work. It gave us the opportunity to advance the creativity and style. It was great to get into a lot of scientific research and flex our design, CG and FX muscles to show what we are capable of. "

Union work has often been used to illustrate science to the public either as an explanation or in a more abstract sense, and to link Marie's thoughts and dreams to her research. The team conducted extensive research on fusion, cell structures, and the behavior of radium in a cloud chamber to inspire creative interpretations based on reality.

For example, Union used a photographic quality to show the splitting of the atom, to discover radium and to make sure it didn't feel like an educational video.

When Marie meets Pierre, who is united in science and marriage, a beautiful visualization shows the shadows of her love rising towards the night sky, turning into a fantastic idea of ​​"creation" that uses a scientifically accurate vision of how atoms form to move polonium.

Union made 3D scans of actors like Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley in nude suits standing intertwined, creating assets that were placed in a 3D replica room. A cast light source created the shadows, which were then animated. The polonium starry sky was created in Houdini.

After her husband dies, Marie's dreams are heavily influenced by the effects of her work. She lies in bed surrounded by radium. We then find her at the center of a radium dance that mimics scientific phenomena enveloping her somewhere between art and science.

The dance choreography was inspired by Loie Fuller, a pioneer of dance whose performances combined modern dance, costume and theatrical lighting techniques. She performed regularly at the Folies Bergère Music Hall in Paris and could have been seen by Marie.

This complex sequence has many cuts (a total of 60 VFX recordings) and LED strips were sewn into the blue-green silk costume to illuminate it from the inside. Since these factors would have made it difficult to handle blue or green screens, a gray background was chosen for the studio shoot in Budapest.

In Kronos, the light artifacts in the costume looked like electrical charges creating a kind of temporal effect that was incorporated into the overall treatment to create the ethereal effect. Marie and the dancers then had to be placed in a fully CG Samaritaine, cobblestone street environment to create a three dimensional feel with FX.

In another scene, she sees her husband's coffin with blood flowing from the sides onto cobblestones. This was achieved using full CG blood in combination with elements of the dissipation fluid that were shot at a phantom at a high frame rate.

The biggest environmental challenge was creating a full CG version of Paris in the snow with La Samaritaine. There were no records, but the team had roof photos from a previous Union shoot and elements from a location in Budapest to help. Reality was added by small touches like adjusting the burned out lightbulbs on the sign to the time, as well as adding a little animated cat on the roof.

Marie's husband Pierre had a rather dramatic ending when he was trampled by a horse-drawn carriage. Hughes' team had to create a fully CG Rue du Pont Neuf bridge with cars and people on the street, replacing the stunt actor with a mix of digital doubles and footage from Riley at night. They also removed the stunt people and added a quaint effect to achieve the stylized look Marjane was looking for. The shooting took place at 3 a.m. at -10 degrees and was filmed at slow speed.

On each pass, Union logged the camera position and ended up letting Riley go to film plates that could be used as a substitute for the stuntman. He was also scanned in costume so he could be put in the middle of the fatal action using head replacement techniques and animated facial expressions based on the panels.

Towards the end of her life, Marie's daughter persuades her to volunteer for the war effort and bring her portable X-ray machines – Petites Curies – into the field to avoid unnecessary amputations. More than a million French soldiers benefited from their presence.

The Union battlefield environment in World War I was based on a shot in a cold, muddy field outside Budapest. Since there wasn't a lot of clothed set, they used Blackmagic to create a library of items. There was also only one little Curie who needed a CG version to be able to pull a fleet into battle.

Converting the snow-covered, misty slab required a large matte painting and the addition of splashes when the wheels went through puddles, as well as smoke and fire. Much of the matte painting was done in composition – even with thick smoke shots where Marie's hair was a challenge.

Marie also sees in one of her visions an entire community filled with her dead husband. To accomplish this, Union used split-screen techniques and replaced extras (chosen with similar body shapes and beards) with several digital Sam Rileys created from a 3D scan by Riley backed by a good lighting reference.

One of the most devastating effects of their scientific discoveries is the Chernobyl disaster. While no one knows what it really was like, firsthand accounts describe a unique type of fire; Satrapi went for a stylized, hyper-real, painterly aesthetic with an interesting color palette for the shots inside and outside the plant.

Union shot an element where they were filming all kinds of burning gases on a hill against the sky at different frame rates. These were mixed in with a 2.5D DMP and some CG building structure and rubble components to create the stylized look visualized by Satrapi and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle.

In the central chamber, Hughes added a waterfall and steam coming off the bottom with FX and elements that included pouring salt at slow frame rates. The entire room was surrounded by a kind of cloud of particles and strands that was inspired by research into the behavior of radium in a cloud chamber. Union also found old photographic references from other reactors and mimicked the distortions of many of those reactors.

Nuclear weapons are also a consequence of the science of the Curie. The film shows bomb tests in Doomtown, Nevada – a test site established in 1951. Doomtown is a recreated U.S. suburban town with mannequins dressed by JC Penny. The movie's doomtown was shot in Almeria, Spain. Union expanded the set, adding mountain ranges with a mix of CG and 2.5D DMPs. When the expected blue sky of the shoot failed to materialize and was instead replaced by a huge dust storm with oppressive orange skies, the decision was made to accept this and replace previous shots.

Union filmed the invited audience, who only watched the test explosions with ski goggles as protection in the Budapest studio, and placed them in the Almeria area. To demonstrate the effects on the mock city, Union built two equally proportioned rooms, one with mannequins and furnishings and one painted black and blank. The inhabited room was wired and SFX did as much damage as they could.

In the black set, Union worked with the SFX team to adjust the camera angles and include more flammable elements before adding it all in along with a dust storm in Houdini blowing through the window.

The Union's greatest challenge in this project was to recreate the Hiroshima bombing. They built a full-fledged CG Enola gay bomber that would then drop the "Little Boy" payload. The view of Hiroshima is based on drone footage of Thailand manipulated into a matte-painted environment with Hiroshima's geographically correct river network. Hughes had to bring the cameras higher than the drone's altitude, but was able to tile them together.

The impact and the resulting mushroom cloud was the Union's largest FX shot at the time. Hughes did an element shoot in which Dettol was guided through a hole in a black map in two large aquariums, which was shot at normal and high speed from two different camera positions to provide some beautiful elements. However, the shot was largely FX-controlled.


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